REVIEW: Star Trek (2009)

NOTE: This review does not contain any major plot spoilers.

Chris Pine as James T. Kirk in Star Trek (2009)

Chris Pine as James T. Kirk in Star Trek (2009)

“This ship, and her history, will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue all the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man . . . where no one has gone before.”
–Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Nearly eighteen years ago, the adventures of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy aboard the USS Enterprise came to an end. Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country concluded in magnificent fashion a 25-year journey.

Meanwhile, shows and movies that still carried the name “Star Trek” moved on, mostly without them. While opening credits, TV listings, and film schedules may have claimed otherwise, these minor treks just did not feel like Star Trek. It turned out that it was not enough to simply throw some random characters together on a random space vessel or station to earn that title.

What is it, then, that makes Star Trek . . . Star Trek?

Though they are embarking on their first foray into the franchise, director J.J. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman believe they have the answer to that question. In fact, they believe it with such passion that they named the eleventh film in the series Star Trek. No numbers, no sub-titles, just Star Trek. As if to say, this is your answer. This is Star Trek.

In the complex world of Star Trek fandom, where some still carry around dog-eared copies of Michael Okuda’s Star Trek Chronology to endlessly argue what is and is not “canon” for a fictional universe, daring to make a statement such as that was not just bold, it bordered on insane.

In their attempt to define Star Trek, the trio takes a risky, yet novel approach in their new movie. Rather than just taking it out for a joy ride, they instead take Star Trek apart to find out how it works.

When putting it back together, some parts end up in different places, others thrown out, and still others replaced. Their newly refurbished, like-new Star Trek runs so well because the underlying engine is still vintage.

It turns out that Star Trek is all about, imagine that, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the USS Enterprise. Abrams’ Star Trek returns the focus of the Star Trek universe back to them, where it should have remained all along.

Star Trek is a fantastic, fast-paced film that earns a spot among the best of its predecessors: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

As we all knew from the beginning, this re-imagining of Star Trek hinges on two things: the characters and the writing. Fortunately, both elements are successful.

Though with new, younger faces, the most important characters all seem like themselves, given the nature of the events of the movie. Karl Urban does the best job of all, managing to become Leonard McCoy without stepping into a DeForest Kelley imitation.

In many ways, the success or failure of this new look for Star Trek rests almost entirely on the shoulders of Chris Pine as James T. Kirk. If Pine had been ineffective as Kirk, or, worse, strayed into a SaturdayNightLive-style parody of William Shatner, the quality of the rest of the movie would not have mattered and this whole endeavor would have been ruined. Instead, Pine expertly takes command of the role. With the perfect combination of writing and acting, Kirk is back.

Zachary Quinto as Spock in Star Trek (2009)

Zachary Quinto as Spock in Star Trek (2009)

Almost as important to the film is Zachary Quinto as Spock. The writers give him some room to play, for the young half-Vulcan is not fully in control of his emotions. Even with that as a consideration, at times Spock seems a little “off,” but certainly not by nearly enough to derail the movie. Quinto does a decent job in a tough role.

Most notable among the other re-casts are Zoë Saldana as Uhura and John Cho as Sulu. Saldana perfectly portrays both the underlying spunk and compassion of the character. The writers really found the inner depth of Uhura, a character often underused in the past. Unlike two or three of the others, this does not feel like a “new” character that happens to share the same name as an “old” one.

Zoe Saldana as Uhura in Star Trek (2009)

Zoe Saldana as Uhura in Star Trek (2009)

Instead, this is the Uhura that was there all along, but was just too often forgotten by most other writers. While Saldana is strikingly beautiful, any concern that she was only chosen to be this incarnation’s “Star Trek babe” is wiped away by the acting ability shown in her first scene all the way until her last.

John Cho, on the other hand, manages to breathe life into one of Star Trek’s traditionally dullest characters, Sulu. While George Takei’s performances as the character were either wooden or over-the-top, Cho strikes the perfect balance. Cho’s Sulu is one I can actually imagine becoming a captain someday, while it was really a stretch for Takei’s version of Sulu.

The writing is solid throughout the movie, with the high point being portrayals of the heroic characters as noted above. Though interesting, the main plot itself is not quite as strong, relying too often on coincidences and characters suddenly spewing out a dozen lines of back-story. The weakest point is the simplistic villain Nero (Eric Bana), who might as well be any other cardboard Khan-wannabe from various other Star Trek movies. Star Trek is otherwise so brilliant that these and other minor script issues can be overlooked.

Michael Giacchino’s musical score is incredible. His composition that opens the film is the perfect re-introduction to Star Trek. Though it is by no means a copy, my first thought was that it was reminiscent of James Horner’s work, who provided the best music of the film series in Star Trek II and Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. I want to hear it a few more times before deciding, but my first impression is that Giacchino may have provided the only other Star Trek film music to rival the work of Horner.

Starship USS Enterprise in Star Trek (2009)

Starship USS Enterprise in Star Trek (2009)

Whether it was reruns of the classic series or opening day at various movies, I grew up watching the adventures of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy aboard the USS Enterprise. To date, I have written nearly two hundred posts on this site that involve Star Trek in some way. Obviously, I cannot deny being a Star Trek fan. As a fan, as a Trekkie, I loved Abrams’ Star Trek and the potential for the future that it represents.

Story: 8 (out of 10)
Performances: 9
Visual Style: 9
Effects: 10
Music: 10
Overall: 9

* * *

All images courtesy of Paramount Pictures. The Film Frontier participates in Paramount’s Star Trek Webmaster program. Visit the official Star Trek movie site for complete coverage.